What Marketers Can Learn About Brand Building From Disney Pixar's 'Inside Out'

Inspiration for marketers can come from surprising sources. As our kids kick off their summer break and we seek ways to spend that extra time with them, what better place to gain insights into the marketing world than from one of America’s favorite family activities? Going to the movies.

One film receiving critical acclaim is Disney Pixar’s “Inside Out.” Besides finally explaining what is up with our kids’ roller-coaster of emotions in a language both parents and even the youngest of audience members can interpret, this fascinating story can also teach us why understanding emotion’s relationship with memory is fundamental in effective marketing.

In fact, the movie’s crucial takeaway is where we begin: 

Memory is about the future, not the past

Better understanding of the importance of memories left behind about your brand can truly help marketers understand and potentially even predict brand loyalty and future purchase behavior.



However, to understand and even measure memories, we must first recognize that emotions help create those memories. Here’s where “Inside Out”helps dramatize the concept:

In the movie, the emotion of Fear is needed to keep the main character, Riley, out of harm’s way. Disgust, as is brilliantly depicted as the emotion with good taste, is necessary to help Riley avoid being poisoned, both physically and socially. Anger’s purpose is to make what Riley believes to be wrong, right. And finally, Riley’s lead emotion, Joy, does everything in her power to keep Riley uplifted and the other emotions in check.

Through an entertaining turn of events, the emotions, all of them, join forces throughout Riley’s 11 years of life to help form memories. Some memories are short-term and plentiful. Some get filed away into long-term memory—described in the movie as a labyrinth in which emotions easily get lost. And some get vacuumed into a Memory Dump, never to return.

And finally, it’s the core memories that power Riley’s Islands of Personality. These are what formulate or change behavior, which is what marketers are constantly trying to do.

Avoid being joy-centric

Importantly, marketers can use emotion to their advantage. It’s not just about communicating all of the good things that the brand has to offer—that would be speaking to just Joy. As the movie teaches us, Joy actually needs Sadness to help make decisions about where your customers are in their lives. They need the memories that Sadness—or Anger, Disgust, and Fear for that matter—create to help set up the need for a product or service.

Furthermore, in brand communications, the memories created by our emotions help us interpret stories correctly. The use of emotional storytelling in advertising, for example, would not work if all ad stories spoke to Joy. 

Picture TV ads for Nike: In nearly every ad, every emotion can be spotted quite easily. Easily because we, as viewers, have our own memories to grasp and relate to what’s happening as we watch each of Nike’s brand stories unfold. And, even more powerful, memories about Nike are created with every brand experience consumers participate in—from watching an ad, to shopping for, then later running in, the shoes, apparel, etc. 

In a nutshell, these memories, skillfully co-created by the brand and its customers, are what have made Nike such an enchanting brand.

Be mindful of the Memory Dump

Other characters helping form Riley’s story include the Forgetters. The Forgetters’ purpose is to vacuum up the old memories that Riley no longer needs. Once sucked up, these old, unnecessary memories are sent down to the Memory Dump. This process of vacuuming up un-needed memories is necessary to make room for new memories.

Subconsciously, the same eventually becomes true in the minds of customers. As competitors create new brand memories, it’s inevitable that they will “erase” old ones. 

Of critical importance to marketers is that they must constantly create new memories for consumers through experiences that appeal to all emotions. 

Think of the new “target consumer” as equal parts Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust.

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